The high cost of throwing rocks

Last month, in Eugene, Oregon, anarchist Rob Thaxton received an astonishing sentence after being convicted of throwing a rock at a policeman during a June 18 disturbance that grew out of a "Reclaim the Streets" rally. The rock gave the policeman a "deep bruise"; Thaxton, for his part, testified that he did not intend to hit the cop, but merely to divert his attention. For the crime, Lane County Judge Mary Ann Bearden sentenced Thaxton to six years in prison—longer than some people serve in prison for raping or killing.

Bearden tacked an extra year on to the maximum sentencing guidelines and said her decision was intended to send a message that violence would not be tolerated, even in the name of a social cause. Clearly, Thaxton was sentenced in large part due to his political beliefs; any street punk with a comparably clean record, convicted of the same crime, would be out in 90 days. The stiff sentence is part of a widespread local backlash against Eugene's youth-fueled anarchist movement (see "The new anarchists," SW, 9/2), which specifically advocates violence against the "dirty rotten system."

Thaxton's sentence, and the resentment it has provoked among activists down south, is relevant in Seattle because some circles are talking about launching similar acts of violence and/or property destruction during protests against the World Trade Organization talks later this month. The West Coast network that is organizing WTO anarchist protests has agreed to abide by the nonviolence code being promulgated by Seattle direct action organizers—but that won't necessarily stop individuals or small affinity groups from acting on their own outside the mainstream protests. And people sometimes egg each other on or get caught up in the emotion of the moment.

Let's hope not. Aside from the pointlessness and counterproductivity of such acts, they're not likely to meet with much more tolerance here than in Eugene. All indications are that the historic laissez-faire attitude toward protests typical of Seattle is out the window for the WTO. While WTO security is a multiagency affair with a dizzying and somewhat worrisome army of security forces—the FBI, BATF, FEMA, State Department, Secret Service, King County Sheriff, and SPD, among others—the crackdown begins with the city (misdemeanor) and county (felony) prosecuting attorneys. For out-of-town protesters who may be wondering, these happen to be our Mark Sidran and Norm Maleng, the two elected officials in Seattle least likely to have empathy for street protesters.

The felony charges that would be routed through the county in the event of problems carry penalties that are not in the league of the Eugene sentence, but are still serious. For assault charges, assault in the second degree carries a penalty of three to nine months; in the third degree, one to three months. Property destruction (e.g., rock throwing or damaging a car) is, depending on the level of damage, malicious mischief in the first or second degree; that will get you 30-90 or 30-60 days, respectively. The catch, of course, is that multiple charges can add up quickly.

Both WTO host organizers and protest organizers are worried about the possibility of nonviolent demonstrations getting out of hand. Either rowdy demonstrators or nervous cops could trigger a situation where the type of protest—not the protesters' message—becomes the next day's headlines. Add to the mix a wild variety of ideologies and protest cultures descending on Seattle from all over the world, and the end result will almost certainly be somewhat chaotic. Nobody's goals are best served by any of the protests turning violent—least of all with the waste of life represented by abominably long sentences given for momentary acts by the Rob Thaxtons of the world.

Heavy metal, cont'd

Last year I wrote about the controversy involving the two remaining hospitals in Seattle that burned toxic medical waste in on-site incinerators, and the success of a Beacon Hill neighborhood group in compelling one of the hospitals, the VA, to switch to an alternate, less poisonous technology.

Now comes word that after nine years of haggling, the other recalcitrant hospital, Northwest, has also backed down. Northwest Hospital has been shipping its waste to other Puget Sound hospitals and will not restart its incinerator, largely as a result of the efforts of Seattle Health Care Without Harm and its tireless advocate, Rick Barrett. Congratulations all around to those who found a solution to a very serious urban environmental risk.

Or maybe Cointelpro

Update: Last week, a judge in Pennsylvania issued a stay of execution for death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal. Meanwhile, neither Nordstrom nor the Seattle Mumia Defense Committee are laughing, but ya gotta be amused by a prank—or simply stone idiotic—e-mail sent anonymously last month to Nordy's in the Seattle Mumia Defense Committee's name.

Authorities are investigating the e-mail, which reportedly noted Nordstrom's excessive profits through scams like its Seattle HUD loan and city-sponsored parking garage. It then demanded that Nordstrom give back to the community by donating $20 million to Mumia Abu-Jamal's legal defense fund or else demonstrators would protest at Nordstrom's in "ever-increasing numbers."

Oh, please. If ever there were a breathtakingly incompetent effort at extortion, this would be it—demonstrators! Fifty of them! With nose rings! Oh, no! Anything but that! Our knees are trembling! Where's that checkbook?

Then there's the minor matter of the target. What on earth does Nordstrom have to do with the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania? Does the racist Philly judge shop there? The only apparent link between the parking garage scandal and Mumia is that both are issues where activists don't want to let something die.

 
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